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In My Craft and Sullen Art

However, for two decades that early spark never blossomed into a flame.  I majored in English as an undergraduate, focusing on American literature.  However, I struggled to understand my assignments, and today I can recall only a handful of the courses I took.  I do remember taking one creative writing class, in which I labored over a single short story that went nowhere. 

For me, Hobart College was far more of a social experience than an academic one.  Oh, I read Hemingway―once.  High on Dexedrine, I plowed through the bulk of The Sun Also Rises the night before my Introduction to American Literature final exam, finishing the novel, fittingly, as the sun rose, and nearly crashing during the exam for lack of sleep.  I graduated from Hobart a thoroughly average student, earning my diploma without having studied Shakespeare in any depth and incapable of discussing with any confidence any American literary movement or American author.  And I can’t blame any of this on television: I never watched it during my four years at Hobart.  (I rarely watch it today; I suppose I can thank Hobart for that.) 

My college friends graduated without me: At graduation time, due to academic wantonness, I was still two classes short of receiving a diploma; I took and passed the remaining two at a New Jersey university while living at home.  I chose to skip my formal graduation ceremony at Hobart the following year, which, I would learn a decade later during an ugly scene over a dinner table, upset my parents considerably.  I received my diploma in the mail.    

Resettled in the West, I often checked out books from the Denver Public Library, yet finished few.  I purchased some books that I did manage to complete: collections of essays by Abbey, novels by Jean Genet, William Burroughs, Alexander Trocchi, Hubert Selby Jr., Knut Hamsun of Hunger renown, Charles Bukowski, John Rechy―the rebels, oddballs, and desperadoes.  I particularly enjoyed film critic Pauline Kael for her take on movies and American culture. 

The only writing I undertook on a regular basis consisted of letters to my parents back East; I was too nomadic and poor to have a telephone, and, besides, letters kept Mom and Dad at a distance I preferred.  I favored fantasizing about writing books over doing the actual writing.  And I was lonely and frustrated.

And then along came love and New Mexico.  Immediately after arriving in the state, I not only read enthusiastically, I began writing again.  In the spirit of Abbey, Mary Austin, Lawrence Clark Powell, Willa Cather, Frank Waters, and others, I wanted to write about the fundamental land and what it does to a person. 

Shortly after arriving in New Mexico, recalling the first words I ever scribbled to myself about an actual, not fictional, landscape―the Pawnee National Grasslands―I purchased a cheap stenographer’s notebook.  To Linda and curious friends, I called it just that: a “notebook.”  To myself, however, I called it a “journal,” preferring the loftier name.  I always filled it when I hiked and backpacked; and I tried to fill it at least once or twice a week when confined to Albuquerque.  The more I scribbled in it, the more I realized what a pleasure and revelation it was.  Yet a Thoreauvian treasure trove of epiphanies and profundities was not its aim.  It was simply a remedy whenever blockage of my more high-minded literary efforts occurred.  It was a warehouse of raw material for future high-minded stuff.  It was a regular affirmation and reminder of my unique skill, of the hard work that is often required to put even the simplest and most mundane event into a word, sentence, or paragraph. 

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